Rather than signing one of the available veteran centers in free agency, the LA Clippers opted to bring young big man Moses Brown into camp for an opportunity to win their final roster spot. With his poor play during the pre-season, Brown still may make the roster, but he will not make the rotation. Instead, Ty Lue and the Clippers will opt for small-ball.
When asked about this at a recent practice, Ty Lue told reporters that the team’s current focus is removing Ivica Zubac early in the first quarter so he can return to anchor the bench group. In the minutes Zubac sits, the Clippers will go small. While it’s unclear if this was always their plan, Brown’s inability to perform has left them with no choice.
The Golden State Warriors popularized small-ball with Draymond Green often at the five throughout much of their dynasty, but not every team is equipped to imitate that formula. Fortunately for the Clippers, they are.
No backup center, no problem
When speaking about small-ball throughout the course of training camp, coach Lue has made one thing very clear: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George change everything. With Leonard out all of last season, and George out most of last season, the Clippers were often unequipped for small-ball. For such lineups to thrive, elite rebounding and defensive wings are essential. Two of the best in the game, Leonard and George check these boxes.
With the majority of the Clippers’ small groups set to come while Leonard and George are on the floor, since Zubac will be exiting early and reentering with the bench unit, the team should have no trouble with these minutes. The only real concern is the toll this will take on the Clippers’ two stars, but that’s another problem that the team’s personnel is equipped to handle.
With versatile wings like Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum, neither Leonard nor George will ever be forced to slide up a position in smaller groups. With some iteration of Covington, Batum, and Marcus Morris holding down the four and five spots, Leonard and George can comfortably stay at their usual positions. This won’t force any uncomfortable mismatches that could potentially wear down the team’s two most important players as the season goes on.
It’s only October
The final thing to remember when looking at the Clippers’ roster, is that it’s only October. With the ability to maintain an open roster spot throughout the course of the year, by either cutting Moses Brown or converting him into a two-way contract, the Clippers are in no rush to fill their 15th spot. If small-ball proves ineffective, one of the presently available veteran centers will likely still be available mid-season.
For now, the Clippers are choosing to roll with the guys they have. There’s reason to believe it will work, but if it doesn’t, the front office has the ability to address that via trade or free agent signing. This is why the team has chosen to prioritize flexibility over a veteran option that will still be available several months from now.